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Al Jazeera World News

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Dr. Simons 22, Religious Studies 5, Illinois 5, Martin Marty 5, American 3, University Of Chicago 3, United States 3, Larry 3, Dr. John Simons 3, Female Voice 2, California 2, San Francisco 2, Ninian Smart 2, Palestinian 1, Asian 1, India 1, University Of California Berkeley Marxist 1, American Indian 1, Chicago 1, East 1,
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   news offers a variety of perspectives.  

    January 23, 2013
    7:00 - 7:30pm PST  

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[dr. john simons:] hello, i am dr. john simons and i'd like to welcome you to belief and believers. you're about to embark on an extraordinary journey and in a moment we'll leave this living room setting and go into the television classroom. there you'll start a journey with about 24, 25 other students, who have joined us to go on an exploration of religion. but what a journey it is. [ music ]
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[male voice:] so be it. [crowd:] so be it. [male voice:] tonight - [crowd:] tonight - [dr. simons:] this is armageddon, the field of armageddon. this is definitely not your father's oldsmobile. we're at the western wall, the last remaining wall of the second temple. we're at the san francisco zen center. it was the site of illinois greatest religious drama - the exodus of the mormons. this is the spot where jesus reputedly cried for jerusalem. [ music ]
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[male voice:] i'm not talking about god or buddha. [ music ] [female voice:] at the end of it, what is it for? for peace. [male voice:] you just discover it within our selves. [dr. simons:] we'll go through 24 classes in which we'll meet real believers from real religious settings and then we've added two new classes, the twenty fifth and the twenty sixth class back in the setting in which we'll discuss issues such as religion and violence, very much on people's minds. religion and science - new ways that science is helping us understand spiritual experience, and, also religion and spirituality. so, the journey together will give you up-to-date version of what's going on with religion. now one thing we'll also do in the class is
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that you'll develop worldview analysis skills. you can take these with you long after the class is over and apply them to any situation that arises in your own life regarding religion. it could be meeting a neighbor from a different religious perspective or it could have to do with your own spiritual search. all will be included. what we do is we go through six dimensions of religion, the experiential dimension in which people in all cultures in all times ponder profound-like questions. those questions are answered in our second dimension - the mythic dimension, the sacred stories that guide people to our third dimension - ritual practice. then we add on doctrine. perhaps a troublesome dimension because what happens when two people differ on the nature and meaning as something as glorious as god or the nature of what happens after you die so that doctrinal dimension and the ethical dimension - behavior - always a subject that people wrestle with. what is the proper behavior?
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how do we find the good life? and finally, the social dimension - how does religion impact in society? and indeed, what we're learning is religion, though often ignored in the past, we're seeing it as major determinate of human behavior. so, again, welcome to our journey together. when we finish this class, i think you will know so much more about religion and you'll be able to take religion, understand it and work with it in your own world. welcome. rather than listening to me talk about what we're going to be doing, i think it might be very interesting to hear what you have to say in terms why you're taking this course. and, we have some experts who will speak to the issue of why it is so important to take a course in religious studies, an open-minded approach to religion. but, i'm interested in you good folks who are here in our television studio here. [female voice:] i'm a science major and so what i'm hoping to get is more knowledge and understanding of other religions so that i can be more compassionate toward people
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of different faiths. [dr. simons:] wonderful. why? why would you want to do that? [female voice:] compassion is in short supply. [dr. simons:] amen. we can say amen here. this is a religious studies class. good point. so we can learn more about other religion to be more compassionate. this is one of the key things that i think we're going to learn in this class and we will be talking about religious diversity and hopefully coming to some appreciation for other worldviews. other folks might have a comment. sure. [female voice:] i have two children who do missionary work overseas and i want to know more about the people they live with. you, know, what their beliefs are. [dr. simons:] you know, that's a very good point because as the title is beliefs and believers, what i think what makes this course unique is that we really do look at real believers. i mean, so often believe me folks, i went to graduate school, a high pressure graduate program, i was very text-oriented and i got into my first classes at western illinois university teaching traditional a students
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and i was talking my iliad, i was talking my [inaudible], my sociologist and they're going, "huh," you know, is that going to be on the test? and i soon realized that an interesting and perhaps effective way of approaching religion is to hear it from the real believers and that's something that we have in this title: beliefs and believers. we're not in this class, as you'll soon find out, to, 15 weeks later, decide which religion is true or what is true or what isn't true. what we're here to do is to hear real believers talk about their profound life feelings and why they do what they do. and as you can tell from some of just the pictures we have here, we've traveled the world literally in order to get the most diverse set of believers to help us understand what it is they believe. other good comments? sure. [female voice:] i took this to hopefully stretch my horizon more into the religions of other people so i can be more understanding of them.
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i have so little knowledge of them. it's like i don't know how to relate to those feelings that they might have and their philosophies and beliefs and i just thought it would be helpful for me to grow more in that line. [dr. simons:] you know, i think that's so true and especially in this country, not so much in other parts of the world, but especially in this country, we are becoming more religiously diverse. and, that's a very practical reason for trying to understand other people's points of view. your neighbor, somebody may move in next door and be a different religion from what you are. i'm so happy you're here because, you know the old adage, if you go to a cocktail party, never talk about sex, politics or religion, and you know, we always talk about sex and politics but religion is still "whoa, don't touch religion." so, i'm very happy to see you courageous folks out here who are willing to make this leap and join us on this fantastic journey.
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other comments. larry, you have some? [larry:] yes. on the drive over here, i was thinking there are so many languages in the world and who's to say which one is the correct language. i mean that would be an absurd question. [dr. simons:] yes. [larry:] you could apply the same thing to beliefs and believers are different religions. that some religion would claim that it's the only true religion. that would be like saying chinese is the only true language. i mean, would that make any sense? [dr. simons:] that's a wonderful analogy. in fact, you're going to demand your tuition money back, right now, when i share this with you. you're going to want it back - but there is no such thing as religion in this semester. but, you know, in a way, it's true. there really is no such thing as religion. there are human beings, people practicing their faiths in their own way, in their own communities and that's why, well, it's very important we have books and we'll learn some doctrines and we'll learn some things but we should never get away from the fact that we are talking about human beings who are trying to make sense of their lives and going
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about it the best they can. and, so, you're quite right. the battle, you know, your analogy, larry, is well taken. what's the right language? is it something that a group of people agrees upon and even starting today, we're going to look at how fundamental the religious quest really is and why people go about it - so, very, very good points. i don't want start it... oh sure, go ahead. we can take another shot here. [female voice:] i'm just going to pick up on what larry said and that i think there are very few religions who don't really profess themselves to be the one true way. i grew up in a largely, in effect, a whole interfaith family where there weren't any two intermarriage that had the same religion, basically. and, it was basically a combination of roman catholics and then a wide range of protestants. and then in college, i had jewish friends, two of those, and in life, since then, i've had another really interesting faith homes among my acquaintances and growing up in a family that had all these different religions
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and had all the faith homes pointed out as worthy of respect. and, really, the trueness or not trueness was not how they were looked at worthy of respect. [dr. simons:] you know, this is why i am just a foil here, you know. i'm just the moderator because you students are the ones that come up with these pearls of wisdom. what you've just said is so beautiful and very much a theme of this class: that, we do not have to water down our own faith. it does not attack our faith to appreciate or respect somebody else's faith. in fact, that old adage, native american adage, you know, "walk a mile in someone's moccasins before you judge them." and that's all we're asking to do here. the worst - some of the adages that you - if you study comparative religion, you become comparatively religious. in other words, it waters down your faith. well, that should never be the case and, i think, as we travel through the material particularly today in our introduction mode, you'll see that does not have to be the case.
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you know, you really can strengthen your own faith through studying other people's faith. in fact, the interview i had from prof. martin marty from the university of chicago, i don't know if it's included in this particular class or interview that we're going to see here shortly but he makes the point that he's met, you know, the dalai lama, he met mother theresa. he's met great religious leaders and the ones who really are deep in their own faith can make that common cause. can really be enriched from other people and learn from other faiths and so we want to keep that point up front. i mean we haven't touched from anyone in the class. perhaps some folks in here have no real particular religious concerns and you might be here to get three units of humanities credits, which that's what we're about. we're a university or you may be here for a number of different reasons but still as we move through this fascinating journey, looking at different beliefs and believers, it's a good thing
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to keep in mind and we'll touch on that. we brought up some great points on why it is, you know, that we should study religion. you know, why it is we might this is a good thing to be doing? you know, we're not wasting our time here. it's a good thing. but, i want to introduce one of the major world experts. in fact, as you'll see - and we'll go over in our second class - the sixth dimension of worldviews, i studied with professor ninian smart, chair of the department of religious studies at university of santa barbara, where i went, although i think he may have just be retired recently and also president of the american academy of religion recently. anyway, he's a major figure maybe not a household word but ninian smart, we had a wonderful opportunity in our travels to san francisco last november, we were able to corral him, and believe me, folks, it took some corralling. you know, we had to chase this guy up and down a few streets in order to get him to sit down
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and do the interview, but we got him. we got him to sit down. and so what i want to do, just a quick roll-in, is to hear what someone who's devoted their entire life to the academic study of religion. how they've gone about proceeding in their own mind what is important about this study. so i call them roll-ins because i'm used to them. it's a technical term. we roll the videotapes into the class. so i could call them video pieces or whatever but i've been indoctrinated to call them roll-ins so it's no use. i'll be doing it the whole semester so we might as well learn to live with it but when we bring roll-ins and these are video pieces that we have gone out on the field on location and brought in. now just as we're getting ready to see ninian smart here several times throughout the semester and this is very exciting. we will have live guests, real live people right here so we can do some major interaction. but, the second best thing, of course, is to have video pieces
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that we've collected from around the world. many of these pictures, of course, represent that. so, if we could set up the video interview then with ninian smart. i want you to jot down a note or two, it's not very long, just something that strikes you about what he has to say about the importance of studying different religions. so, with no further ado, i give you professor ninian smart. [professor ninian smart:] first of all, every civilized person ought to know about the world's religions, as a matter of course. they're deep as faith of human civilization. so, if you're studying human civilization, you should study the religions. secondly, of course, the study of religion makes a lot of challenges to people's assumption.
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western assumptions are challenged by the ones in the east or the south - the south of the world, africa and so on. african religions make a number of challenges to western ideas. now these challenges often deepen our understanding of our own cultures. the very fact that, let us say, buddhist ethics are little bit different from christian ethics, challenges us to go deeper into the nature of christian love, for example. [dr. simons:] often times students, faculty, the general public, confuse our disciplined religious studies with theology or the philosophical endeavors. what are some of differences or the unique aspects of religious studies? [professor smart:] the subjects where i am saying is i think is that we study the power or life of power
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of religion on the one hand. on the other hand the theologian is trying to promote the truth of what he has to say. of course, we're interested in truth in the sense that we're trying to be true about the power of religion. but we're not there to sell any one religious tradition. i think it's perfectly legitimate if people want to set up a christian college or a jewish seminary - that they should do so and carry on, obviously promoting jewish truth or christian truth. but, task is different to understand religion, to understand its power and to understand its meaning. [dr. simons:] now, what did he have to say that really jumped out of you? there's something very profound in there but, anyone? yes, chris. [chris:] he was talking more about power of religion instead of the truth of religion in how, in religious studies,
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we look at the power of religion instead of looking at the truth of it and that power, i think, he means by what people believe and how they act out on what they believe. [dr. simons:] you're so right and we'll get to this in the second class but there's this very simple little equation here that we'll use over and over again in this class: beliefs plus believers equals behavior and that's a key point here. the power, the power of behavior based on religious ideas. you know, we'll get this up on a graphic here shortly, but beliefs plus believers equals behavior. and, whether one - i mean that the question of truth is so important, you know, religious truth to the person inside the religious community. we can never deny that and one shouldn't. now religious truth is extremely important. but for those of us who are looking at the broader picture
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as we would in this class, it's that power. in religious studies we're not looking at the question of the determining religious truth. we're looking at the power of belief and its effect on individuals, its effect on communities. other good points you might have? sure. [female voice:] well, i think that's a good point that you just brought out about stressing the power and not the truth because many religions and even within their own religion there are truths that people believe in and one truth, even within its own religion can be truer than someone else's. but, if we stress the power, it's the force of people's beliefs, rather than saying that one truth is truer or more validated than another. [dr. simons:] you know, that's very correct and just one example from fairly recent history in the united states, the branch davidian situation, people familiar with the branch davidian situation, oh,
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i don't know, several years ago, the atf officers, the government officers, you know, they're coming across this field, you know, with their semi-automatic weapons and inside there, they're thinking, i assume, we've got some religious fanatics in here. these people are the buckos from waco. you know, all the stuff you got on the media. well, wait a second, folks, because when those bullets started flying out of that compound and in some cases took the life of the government agents, that shows the power. now, one could sit and argue till the cows come home about whether or not the apocalyptic armageddon vision portrayed by david koresh was true or not true but the effect, the power that it has was extraordinary and, you know, that's a rather extreme example to start of the course with, but we'll see that over and over again and one needs to have respect for the power of religious belief.
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sure. [female voice:] are we going to discuss as well the power of the structures over people as well as the individual power gained through their individual beliefs? [dr. simons:] absolutely, as a matter of fact in our second class we'll look at the six dimensions of religion and when we get to the final dimension, the social dimension, we'll very much concentrate on the power of institutional structures and their effect on people. [female voice:] i was interpreting part of the power of religion is i was thinking of the ireland conflict that we're having now and it's gone on for how long and will go on for how much longer and it's all religious base, i assume and it confuses me because i was thinking people that are, say they're religious, are these good people that, well, you know, be good and - to mankind - and here it's just they're killing people and there's harm
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and it confuses me when i see that power. [dr. simons:] and you know here shortly i want to do some notes on just the characteristics of religious studies. but i want to cut right back to your question here shortly in this first class which is: why? you know, that's one thing we've got to do in this class is always ask why? why religion? why do people take these things so seriously and, of course, you'll hear lots more about this. in fact in the second class, we'll have some pieces from our trip to the middle east. but, whoa - i mean, talk about your identity and your relationships linked to a religious perspective. it's like nothing that i've ever experienced over here in this country and we'll see how intense that is. but try to answer the question why and understand it. you have a question on the back or comment? [female voice:] professor, oh, i'm sorry. [female voice:] which one were you.. [dr. simons:] oh, either one. [female voice:] either one. [dr. simons:] you can do it in harmony. [ both women speak simultaneously and the class laughs ]
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[female voice:] i was interested in professor smart warned against making assumptions about other religions because often that deters you from being open to other religions. if you feel you have the truth, you proceed only in one line and don't let other ideas come into your spiritual journey. [dr. simons:] and it's so true because we've tried to make some inroads in terms of racism in our society. we've tried to make some inroads in terms of sexist attitudes, sexual orientation, phobias. we tried for 20 years to try to work through those but still it doesn't seem, it still seems like religion is taboo. and, there's just so many raw prejudices that people spill out, you know, just in conversation about religious assumptions that when one talks to the believer - where's the believer? here, we have some interesting believers. you talk to the believers and then you get another picture.
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that will get to you. [female voice:] i was just thinking about all the history courses i've had over my years and how shaped history is by religion. [dr. john simons:] boy, i'll tell you. [female voice:] the spanish inquisition and am sure there was a lot of influence in founding the united states and before that the crusades, everything was so imbalanced with religious life. [dr. simons:] and you know, this is a whole another theme that we're going to look at but it's so true. i took my u.s. history course from the last die-hard university of california berkeley marxist. i mean, everything was economics. we went through the whole thing and the only thing that moved anything was economics and we never heard about religion once in that course. you know how do you understand the united states and its history without touching on religion? and there are several reasons we'll get into on why that is.
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but, i think in many cases it's a misinterpretation of having [inaudible] in 1965 which attempted to remove religion from the public arena and we've raised-up a whole generation of secularized people. and the only thing i can say, you know, i hate to get me any kind of truth statements in here but we don't want to ever think religion doesn't matter. i mean, if there's anything you can get out of this class it's, hey, at least pay attention to it. you know, you can be a die-hard atheist or a secularized human, whatever, but you know, please pay attention to it. yes, paula. [paula:] what always is very life inspiring is thinking of the american indian. the indian's concept of the world, concept of religion facing this hoard of people, who absolutely had no idea what they were encountering and misinterpreted it. [dr. simons:] the clash of cultures - you know, i might as well just throw these notes away.
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this is too interesting. you don't need any notes in this class. oh. the clash of cultures and the sadness of the native american situation - and interesting parallels though, and, you know, you can get into trouble for these kinds of things but oh well, i'll get in trouble. but you know you see a similarity in the situation in israel where for whatever reason justifiable by religious reasons the israelis come in and they're in the palestinian area and they, you know, the palestinians are moved out and this creates huge kinds of tension. so there's parallels when we religions are misunderstood and we have these difficulties. [female voice:] from centuries back - centuries. [dr. simons:] yes, sure. [female voice:] i think of the power that religion has had in inspiring people to create great works of art, architecture, painting. we have them from several different religions right up there.
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[dr. simons:] it's astounding. and, you know, i want to get you a little bit of the why question on this but when you go to - this is the dome of the rock, probably the third most holy shrine in islam right behind the wailing wall. it's back right up. if you haven't been there you don't realize how close these sites really are - but how extraordinary. you know what inspires people to create these great architectural masterpieces. what are they saying? what are they reaching out for? and all of this is at the very core of religion. but, in our first class here i wanted to, in addition to ninian smart, we have a wonderful interview with professor martin marty, probably the expert in american religious history and he was kind enough to allow us to sit down and talk to him for a minute. i want to just play this one short segment because he speaks to something you've already articulated very,
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very well which is the importance of understanding religious diversity because, indeed, we are, you know, in this nation becoming more religiously diverse, and so let me then take us to the campus of the university of chicago and we'll hear what professor martin marty has to say about religious studies and its importance. [interviewer:] we're extremely fortunate to be here today talking with professor martin marty on the beautiful campus of the university of chicago. i'd like to ask you first of all, professor marty, about religious pluralism. one of the purposes of this class, of course, is to introduce students to let's say the world of the 21st century. what's it's going to be like to live in a country that truly is religiously pluralistic. can you give us some sense of the movement towards religious pluralism in, say, the 21st? [prof. martin marty:] every indicator we get is that there is going to be more and not less, by which i mean to say that the typical american is used to thinking of this
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as a place where one set of people set the terms. it wasn't black, it wasn't native american, wasn't jews, wasn't catholics. it was a certain kind of protestant. but today, while they may remain strong and will into the twenty-first century, we now have more muslims than episcopalians. we have 450,000 people from the asian sub- continent, india and some are practicing their religions. asia, in general, is the strong influence. we have twenty million hispanics and it's a very different sort of catholicism than we had had and the enterprise to have about as many religions as there are people seems to continue progressing. [interviewer:] one of the models we're using in this class is to look at the global religious diversity by focusing right here at home. as a matter of fact, in our own backyard, would you say that chicago and illinois is unique in terms of its religious diversity or is it typical around the country? [dr. marty:] it's not unique.
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you will find more in california than you do here coz everything is in california. it's the fattest yellow pages of religion, anywhere. but for what i recall a feet on the ground place, for a kind of basic place, i think illinois is a marvelous representation. illinois, as i think, do have a little screen. they don't want too many outrageous things to go too much but we simply have such a good population mix. i always think of dupage county as the best example. everyone knows dupage is an extremely wealthy, prosperous, booming place of catholics and conservative protestants and every weekend, 40 or 50 non-judea christian worshipping groups are there. one of the most vitals are alaskan communities as in the suburbs of hillsdale, illinois. you go up the street from wilkins college, which is the flagship of the evangelican schools and a little bit north, you get theophosy and a little bit further there's an insurance shinshu temple. you can look out the window of the editors of christian conservative magazine